Jean Friedman-Rudovsky from the Solutions Journalism Network did an excellent job at further clarifying the ideas behind solutions journalism in class on Tuesday. She explained solutions journalism is all about switching the framework of a piece from traditional problem-oriented journalism to showing what’s effective in combatting social issues. I learned that with solutions journalism pieces there’s a lot more potential for getting local communities on board in fighting social problems because people are more receptive to solutions style stories and feel more empowered.
At the heart of a solutions journalism piece, you’ll find problem-solving. The articles really get into the details of implementation of solutions, present evidence of results, focus on systematic response, and explain limitations within the data while also avoiding puffery. You can find potential solutions journalism stories by looking for recent changes in legislation on social issues. Before pitching, do some thorough research on if a solutions model is working. You want to find solid, independent research to back up a solutions model — the evidence an organization gives you about their own work is a little tricky because you don’t know exactly how it was gathered. Be honest with your audience about what numbers are. Explain the background of how the data was found and what the numbers really show so you don’t come across as public relations-y.
You want to focus on the “how” more than anything in your solutions journalism stories. A solutions story can come at any phase in the life of a response as long as you tell your audience what you know and don’t know. If studies aren’t yet complete, you can still write a great solutions journalism piece as long as you’re honest with your audience and explain why the numbers are there or not there. It’s easier to do solutions pieces about topics people already understand. Hunt for pieces by digging around asking “Who’s doing it better?” Stay away from hero worship, magic “silver bullet” fixes, think tank articles and instant activism in your pieces — these are not solutions journalism pieces, but may still have a place in the journalism spectrum.